Bush 'planted fake news stories on American TV'
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
-- -- Federal authorities are
actively investigating dozens of American television stations
for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and
major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of
the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or
promoted the companies' products.
Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
are seeking information about stations across the country after
a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary
extent of the use of such items.
The report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and
Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77
television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts,
known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who
had produced the items.
"We know we only had partial access to these VNRs and yet we
found 77 stations using them," said Diana Farsetta, one of the
group's researchers. "I would say it's pretty extraordinary. The
picture we found was much worse than we expected going into the
investigation in terms of just how widely these get played and
how frequently these pre-packaged segments are put on the air."
Ms Farsetta said the public relations companies commissioned to
produce these segments by corporations had become increasingly
sophisticated in their techniques in order to get the VNRs
broadcast. "They have got very good at mimicking what a real,
independently produced television report would look like," she
The FCC has declined to comment on the investigation but
investigators from the commission's enforcement unit recently
approached Ms Farsetta for a copy of her group's report.
The range of VNR is wide. Among items provided by the Bush
administration to news stations was one in which an
Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying "Thank you Bush.
Thank you USA" in response to the 2003 fall of Baghdad. The
footage was actually produced by the State Department, one of 20
federal agencies that have produced and distributed such items
Many of the corporate reports, produced by drugs manufacturers
such as Pfizer, focus on health issues and promote the
manufacturer's product. One example cited by the report was a
Hallowe'en segment produced by the confectionery giant Mars,
which featured Snickers, M&Ms and other company brands. While
the original VNR disclosed that it was produced by Mars, such
information was removed when it was broadcast by the television
channel - in this case a Fox-owned station in St Louis,
Bloomberg news service said that other companies that sponsored
the promotions included General Motors, the world's largest car
maker, and Intel, the biggest maker of semi-conductors. All of
the companies said they included full disclosure of their
involvement in the VNRs. "We in no way attempt to hide that we
are providing the video," said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for
Intel. "In fact, we bend over backward to make this disclosure."
The FCC was urged to act by a lobbying campaign organised by
Free Press, another non-profit group that focuses on media
policy. Spokesman Craig Aaron said more than 25,000 people had
written to the FCC about the VNRs. "Essentially it's corporate
advertising or propaganda masquerading as news," he said. "The
public obviously expects their news reports are going to be
based on real reporting and real information. If they are
watching an advertisement for a company or a government policy,
they need to be told."
The controversy over the use of VNRs by television stations
first erupted last spring. At the time the FCC issued a public
notice warning broadcasters that they were obliged to inform
viewers if items were sponsored. The maximum fine for each
violation is $32,500 (£17,500).
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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